Written evidence submitted by LEP Network



The LEP Network welcomes the opportunity to participate in the Public Account Committee’s call for evidence following the publication of the report. Local Enterprise Partnerships have consistently delivered on skills activity since their inception, latterly being the body responsible for the publication of the Local Skills Reports (LSRs) on behalf of LEP (employer led) Skills Advisory Panels (SAPs) which in many areas were preceded by Employment and Skills Boards.  The LEP Network plays a crucial role in ensuring that the skills agenda is integrated with the wider economic strategic work that they lead.  Skills strategies and action plans should not be developed in isolation from the wider economic strategies. The Skills Reports are evidence driven and use data, recommended by the DfE, together with local intelligence to present a detailed analysis of the challenges and opportunities within a particular geography. The withdrawal of SAP funding by DfE means that that Local Skills reports are unlikely to be updated in 2023 and there is a danger that skills priorities will be developed in isolation from the wider economic strategies.

This work is not carried out in isolation and involves close liaison with neighbouring LEPs, providers (who are using this to support LSIP providers who currently do not have the necessary skills analysis functions), local authorities, employers, and other stakeholder to define an areas supply and demands, which are then synthesised into a range of reports, including local economic strategies. The local labour market intelligence informs local support for young people, employers and their employees and unemployed and economically inactive people.  It underpins local skills and employment strategies, that set out priorities for discretionary funds (for example, ESF, more recently Skills Bootcamps, UKSPF and Multiply), that influence the curriculum offer of educational providers including colleges, independent training providers and universities and which underpins careers provision – both through Careers Hubs and the National Careers Service, as well as other local providers. Data is delivered in a number of ways including through conferences and workshops.

This paper sets out some of the issues that can be further considered when addressing workforce skills.

Example one – Local Skills Reports – A Partnership Approach: Hull and East Yorkshire LEP

Prior to the publication of the LSR the LEP held a number of workshops with providers and stakeholders drawn from employers, the VCSE and other agencies such as the DWP to test initial hypothesis and to consider challenges to assumptions based on the data alone. This then enabled the LEP to consider its priorities and recommendations on future skills actions for board and local authority discussions and, where appropriate, directly raise these issues via the former Skills Advisory Panel Team within the DfE.

The LEP continuously gathers local intelligence via its existing working groups that feed into the Employment and Skills Board. These conversations are then used in key messages and discussions at the LEP Boards, in conversations with providers and at the Skills Network to gather additional intelligence and consult on arising actions.  Following such feedback the former Humber LEP then developed a data dashboard Skills Dashboard using Microsoft BI which was the preference of employers to enable easier use of the data.


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Lancashire Skills and Employment Strategic Framework

A 5-year skills strategy was published in Lancashire in 2016 called the Lancashire Skills and Employment Strategic Framework by the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub which supports the work of the Lancashire LEP and the 15 Local Authorities: https://www.lancashireskillshub.co.uk/strategies/strategic-framework/ . The framework is underpinned by a robust evidence base of both quantitative and qualitative labour market intelligence and was refreshed in February 2021 alongside the publication of the Lancashire Local Skills Report.  An open-source skills and employment evidence base is on the Skills Hub's website which includes a Power BI Dashboard that can be interrogated by district. 

The framework is owned by local stakeholders, including businesses, education providers and is delivered in partnership.  The framework has driven a collegiate approach from providers across the area in solving Lancashire's skills issues – from working collaboratively together and with employers to drive the Careers Hub, to the delivery of a trailblazer LSIP and SDF programme, to securing a Lancashire IoT and trialling and testing Skills Bootcamps with DCMS, which have rolled out under the DfE National Skills Fund, to recognising employers through the Lancashire Skills Pledge who inspire, recruit and develop the people of Lancashire.  Joining the dots on programmes and provision has been a fundamental role of the Skills Hub, to maximise impact for Lancashire businesses and residents.


Considering the number of actors who are responsible for the delivery and support of adult learners including those employed and those seeking work, the overall system requires simplification.  The make-up of many of the UK’s economic regions includes significant percentages of SMEs, many of which are micro-organisations that have the capacity to grow and increase productivity. However, these employers often lack the time and resources to research and provide support for themselves and their employees and the current system needs further work to connect these two areas together.  LEPs are impartial, business led independent organisations who can reach employers of all sizes via their existing networks such as the Growth Hubs.  The Growth Hubs have successfully been used to deliver additional resources under times of crisis and are the trusted mechanisms for immediate connectivity to employers.

Several LEPs have developed specialist roles such as Workforce Development Advisors who build up relationships with employers and provide advice and support on how to attract, increase and sustain their workforces and talent pipelines. These hybrid roles, sitting between the Growth Hubs and the Skills Teams are also successful in maximising the apprenticeship levy, often acting as broker when employers cannot spend their entire levy and can ‘gift it’ to SMEs either within their own or other supply chains.

New Anglia LEP developed an apprenticeship levy scheme in 2020. In that time, we have supported the sharing of £2.3m allowing 280 starts across a range of levels and sectors.

The Growth Hub Advisors, by their daily contact with employers who are looking to develop their businesses can act as enablers when discussing access to other support such as grants and loans. By providing these individuals with evidence of progression and increases in productivity gained in one joined-up conversation, the employer is more likely to consider the holistic approach rather than to rely on material investments alone.   

The National Careers Service providers include those with detailed local knowledge that help translate labour market intelligence and support individuals who are looking for a career change or to progress. However, this service is only as good as employers and individuals allow it to be, by both sharing their LMI and informing the service of current and future skills gaps.

Whilst it is helpful to see the government’s approach to accessing skills finance, some LEPs have received feedback that individuals are not confident about taking on what they perceive as debt and that independent advice is not sought as often as it could be. Given that upskilling/re-skilling brings benefits for employers as well as employees a campaign to demonstrate how investment pays dividends would be beneficial and LEPs could add their regional content to make the resources more relevant to a particular area.

The Department for Work and Pensions Jobcentre Plus teams can also play an influential role in two ways; one by developing relationships with new employers who are looking to invest/expand in a region and attract a new workforce and secondly when advising clients on the ways to maximise their work opportunities and progress into rewarding careers. In the former JCP can act as a sifter for people in receipt of benefits, offer employability services to increase an individual’s chance of work and ensure that the employer has access to work trials, sector-based work academies or other mechanisms to provide an effective transition and increase residents’ chances of work. For the latter and in particular for those who have recently left employment e.g., through redundancy, advice on further and higher levels of training as well as job-seeking support would be welcomed.

The Lancashire Skills Hub established a redundancy task force during the pandemic, bringing together DWP colleagues, National Careers Service and ESF providers under Skills Support for the Workforce, to ensure a coordinated offer for employers.  A joint communication strategy has been agreed with joint marketing materials and single points of contact.  It is still meeting and poised to support employers facing financial difficulties due to energy costs

In Norfolk and Suffolk, New Anglia LEP and stakeholders have a strong relationship with the work coaches within the Jobcentres. New and existing skills and employment initiatives regularly engage with them to keep them up to date. This way, it is not just the DWP funded initiatives are supported. This has been widely used by ESF contract holders and now being utilised for our Skills Bootcamps.

Currently many JCP colleagues are very much aware of DWP funded provision and automatically refer to these routes but are often less confident on higher and technical training routes. A focus on increasing knowledge and referral points would help remedy this.  In addition, this separation between directly contracted provision by the DWP acts as a barrier when addressing how successful these programmes and initiatives actually are; the reporting route is via a central mechanism and there is often perceived duplication at a local level. A more transparent and open reporting mechanism would help local providers and stakeholder see the value or otherwise of this government investment within a region.

In Norfolk and Suffolk, the two County Councils and New Anglia LEP have pooled resources to create a new joint Inward Investment Service called ‘Invest Norfolk & Suffolk’. As the lead for driving inward investment across both counties, the team work closely with all of our districts. Working closely with partners across the counties allows the teams to have open conversations and produce actions to address skills requirements, attract talent and signpost new and potential employers to the skills and employment initiatives that are available. 185 enquiries have been made through this service with some key leads looking at manufacturing and warehouse skills requirements.

HR and Talent Managers within employer organisations are a vital part of the solution; often these colleagues are much closer to the skills gaps and requirements of medium to large companies than the CEO.  Trends in recruitment can often be acted upon sooner due to their insight. Regular discussion and sharing of data with LEPs, through mechanisms such as the Hull & East Yorkshire LEP (HEYLEP) Talent Forum can inform providers and investors in developing suitable training courses. New Anglia LEP also utilise their knowledge with our sector skills groups.

Regional employer engagement within provider settings and at stakeholder level is essential. Emerging growth sectors, which LEPs are acutely aware of, will share their workforce needs and at employer level. If local talent is unavailable employers will simply attract this from outside of the immediate region. However the continued focus on developing the workforce is reliant on having the resources (including time) to invest.  Therefore, EU funding programmes that use local data to initiate local responses has been so successful in many regions. The Skills Support for the Workforce Programme, offering level two provision that is tailored to an organisation’s needs, has been running in many LEP regions for over 7 years.  Once employers recognise the improvement in what is usually an individual’s vocational and technical skills, and the resulting impact in terms of productivity, then often further investment will follow. This mechanism of using a tailored resource as a catalyst for employer conversations and the developing relationships is extremely useful. The individual can often see their personal benefits and will then consider their own investment to further their qualifications and talents.

Some LEPs have had a linked redundancy support programme supported by the ESF. This has allowed introductions from DWP to businesses as they start large scale redundancies. This has immediately given individuals a lifeline to update their employability skills and the option to undertake training to support new employment.





The DfE resources available to support Multiply and Skills Bootcamps is again a useful example of using smaller amounts of resource to encourage employers and employees to further invest.

Example - in the HEYLEP region employers in the Fibre Broadband and Heat Pump sectors discussed their immediate needs with the LEP who worked in close partnership with a local authority to develop Skills Bootcamp proposals to DfE which resulted in the delivery of training designed to meet their specific needs. New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has appointed eight specialist training providers to run the Skills Bootcamps after securing £1m of funding from the Department for Education. They will train at least 240 people in construction, logistics, green skills or leadership & management - boosting their employability.

However Multiply is more complex, as the DfE continued focus on the achievement of GCSEs in English and Maths at grade C is somewhat confusing when local employers often require functional skills which can be built on in the workplace, and digital skills.  Adults particularly are often somewhat uncomfortable with the rationale to resit GCSE exams if they have been able to find and sustain work and do not see these as a barrier except when wishing to access an apprenticeship.

The Apprenticeship Levy and its requirements to spend in the time period is restrictive and fails to recognise that employers do need to consider future roles within organisations when asking an employee to take on further study. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for some employees they directly link this training opportunity with a higher salaried role, and this cannot always be guaranteed. Employing additional apprentices can also be a perceived burden even with much larger organisations.

Employer engagement in the development of Apprenticeship Standards has focussed to date on the larger corporate organisations who have the time and staff resources to be able to commit significant amounts of time to develop the offer, which can be so focussed it has limited appeal to other employers, including those in the same sector.  This can result in frustration and a disengagement with employers feeling they are not able to fully engage or have the ability to do so.

Example - in the HEYLEP region there is an evidenced demand for a new standard in the Modular Build industry which has resulted in a LEP Board member pulling together a number of colleagues to begin the process of development and potentially a Trailblazer group.  However, discussions with IFATE have resulted in the Board member being told that the emerging standard is “too similar” to existing provision and has been advised to explore existing options rather than progress their own submission leaving those trying to progress this frustrated and questioning whether the system is genuinely employer-centric.

Where universities have participated in providing an apprenticeship offer, which naturally falls at higher levels, reports have been received that the additional responsibility for regulatory frameworks (e.g. Ofsted) raise some issues in regard to existing faculty and departmental engagement processes, these can be more costly than initially anticipated. The responsiveness to local vocational needs and the detailed end point assessment naturally are new grounds to universities.  Where alignment and sometimes greater integration is achieved is the delivery of higher-level apprenticeships within further education and training providers, who have experience of supporting students though smooth transition pathways. This is one avenue that can be further developed to engage with existing vocational employers who rely on the post 16 providers for level one and two training.

The results of the EU exit and its result in fewer migrant workers remaining has caused particular stresses in certain sectors such as hospitality, social care, food processing and rural environments. A review of the current rules on economic migration in areas that require workforce volume can be undertaken working with suitable sector representative groups including LEP board members who act as champions for either sizes of businesses or who are sector leads. 

This lack of a suitable workforce compounded by fewer people wishing to stay in full time employment over 50, (and recognising that the working population balance of the UK is changing,) needs to be addressed. Here there are considerations in terms of working practices and conditions, minimum wages, and work/life balances. Younger residents often are not aware of career routes and that is where LEPs work in Careers Hubs plays a valuable role. However, for older workers part time and shift work may be a lifestyle choice, though if personal commitments leading to this decision impact then further study at higher levels is not an option.

Many LEPs supported the DWP with a 50+ Choices pilot in 2021 to encourage employers to review their HR practices with this age cohort. It was very clear that employers need more support with this which LEPs would be willing to do if they were given the resources to carry out this activity.

The DfE Local Skills Improvement Plan developments, whilst welcomed in terms of regional investment, have completely overlooked the knowledge, experience and impartiality of LEP’s work to date.  Whilst Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Business are types of ERB, they differ significantly in size, in reach and in their approach. LEPs in many cases, have actually contributed to the LSIP and the prior Strategic Development Fund bids, achieving good success. However, the DfE expectations on LSIP open and transparent governance remains unclear. In some cases, Chambers and FSB teams do not have the relevant resources or experience to deliver this impartial role and hopefully will therefore work with LEPs to ensure some continuity of effective service. However, LEPs will need funding for this when the Skills Advisory Panel funding ceases in March 2023.

For those ERBs who run their own training provision then the picture is even more confusing, given the focus on improvement. Without the expertise and relationships built up over a significant time period it is possible that in some areas the LSIPs will not reach their potential, and this is something that cannot happen. LEPs are willing and able to play their part and welcome the opportunity to do so.    

Further comments


October 2022